The Best Forms of Exercise to Improve Your Mood

The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise —

The Best Forms of Exercise to Improve Your Mood

Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active.

People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also a powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.

Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits.

Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to deal with mental health problems, improve your energy and outlook, and get more life.

Exercise and depression

Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. As one example, a recent study done by the Harvard T.H.

Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%.

In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.

Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being.

It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good.

Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

Exercise and anxiety

Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.

Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin.

By adding this mindfulness element—really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise—you’ll not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.

Exercise and stress

Ever noticed how your body feels when you’re under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches.

You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or frequent urination.

The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.

Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.

Exercise and ADHD

Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood.

Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention.

In this way, exercise works in much the same way as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

Exercise and PTSD and trauma

Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma.

Instead of allowing your mind to wander, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves.

Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs—such as walking (especially in sand), running, swimming, weight training, or dancing—are some of your best choices.

Outdoor activities hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing (downhill and cross-country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.

Other mental health benefits of exercise

Even if you’re not suffering from a mental health problem, regular physical activity can still offer a welcome boost to your mood, outlook, and mental well-being.

Exercise can help provide:

Sharper memory and thinking. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.

Higher self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. You’ll feel better about your appearance and, by meeting even small exercise goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement.

Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns. If you prefer to exercise at night, relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.

More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go. Start off with just a few minutes of exercise per day, and increase your workout as you feel more energized.

Stronger resilience. When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you build resilience and cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviors that ultimately only make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.

Reaping the mental health benefits of exercise is easier than you think

You don’t need to devote hours your busy day to train at the gym, sweat buckets, or run mile after monotonous mile to reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. Just 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week is enough. And even that can be broken down into two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions if that’s easier.

Even a little bit of activity is better than nothing

If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too. Start with 5- or 10-minute sessions and slowly increase your time.

The more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have, so eventually you’ll feel ready for a little more. The key is to commit to some moderate physical activity—however little—on most days. As exercising becomes a habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities.

If you keep at it, the benefits of exercise will begin to pay off.

You don’t have to suffer to get results

Research shows that moderate levels of exercise are best for most people. Moderate means:

  1. That you breathe a little heavier than normal, but are not breath. For example, you should be able to chat with your walking partner, but not easily sing a song.
  2. That your body feels warmer as you move, but not overheated or very sweaty.

Overcoming obstacles to exercise

Even when you know that exercise will help you feel better, taking that first step is still easier said than done. Obstacles to exercising are very real—particularly when you’re also struggling with a mental health issue.

Here are some common barriers and how you can get past them.

Feeling exhausted. When you’re tired, depressed, or stressed, it seems that working out will just make you feel worse. But the truth is that physical activity is a powerful energizer.

Studies show that regular exercise can dramatically reduce fatigue and increase your energy levels. If you are really feeling tired, promise yourself a quick, 5-minute walk.

Chances are, once you get moving you’ll have more energy and be able to walk for longer.

Feeling overwhelmed. When you’re stressed or depressed, the thought of adding another obligation to your busy daily schedule can seem overwhelming. Working out just doesn’t seem practical.

If you have children, finding childcare while you exercise can also be a big hurdle.

However, if you begin thinking of physical activity as a priority (a necessity for your mental well-being), you’ll soon find ways to fit small amounts of exercise into even the busiest schedule.

Feeling hopeless. Even if you’ve never exercised before, you can still find ways to comfortably get active. Start slow with easy, low-impact activities a few minutes each day, such as walking or dancing.

Feeling bad about yourself. Are you your own worst critic? It’s time to try a new way of thinking about your body. No matter your weight, age or fitness level, there are plenty of others in the same boat. Ask a friend to exercise with you. Accomplishing even the smallest fitness goals will help you gain body confidence and improve how you think about yourself.

Feeling pain. If you have a disability, severe weight problem, arthritis, or any injury or illness that limits your mobility, talk to your doctor about ways to safely exercise.

You shouldn’t ignore pain, but rather do what you can, when you can.

Divide your exercise into shorter, more frequent chunks of time if that helps, or try exercising in water to reduce joint or muscle discomfort.

Getting started with exercise when you have a mental health issue

Many of us find it hard enough to motivate ourselves to exercise at the best of times. But when you feel depressed, anxious, stressed or have another mental health problem, it can seem doubly difficult.

This is especially true of depression and anxiety, which can leave you feeling trapped in a catch-22 situation.

You know exercise will make you feel better, but depression has robbed you of the energy and motivation you need to work out, or your social anxiety means you can’t bear the thought of being seen at an exercise class or running through the park.

Start small. When you’re under the cloud of anxiety or depression and haven’t exercised for a long time, setting extravagant goals completing a marathon or working out for an hour every morning will only leave you more despondent if you fall short. Better to set achievable goals and build up from there.

Schedule workouts when your energy is highest. Perhaps you have most energy first thing in the morning before work or school or at lunchtime before the mid-afternoon lull hits? Or maybe you do better exercising for longer at the weekends.

If depression or anxiety has you feeling tired and unmotivated all day long, try dancing to some music or simply going for a walk. Even a short, 15-minute walk can help clear your mind, improve your mood, and boost your energy level.

As you move and start to feel a little better, you’ll often boost your energy enough to exercise more vigorously—by walking further, breaking into a run, or adding a bike ride, for example.

Focus on activities you enjoy. Any activity that gets you moving counts. That could include throwing a Frisbee with a dog or friend, walking laps of a mall window shopping, or cycling to the grocery store.

If you’ve never exercised before or don’t know what you might enjoy, try a few different things.

Activities such as gardening or tackling a home improvement project can be great ways to start moving more when you have a mood disorder—as well as helping you become more active, they can also leave you with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Be comfortable. Wear clothing that’s comfortable and choose a setting that you find calming or energizing. That may be a quiet corner of your home, a scenic path, or your favorite city park.

Reward yourself. Part of the reward of completing an activity is how much better you’ll feel afterwards, but it always helps your motivation to promise yourself an extra treat for exercising. Reward yourself with a hot bubble bath after a workout, a delicious smoothie, or with an extra episode of your favorite TV show, for example.

Make exercise a social activity.

Exercising with a friend or loved one, or even your kids, will not only make exercising more fun and enjoyable, it can also help motivate you to stick to a workout routine.

You’ll also feel better than if you were exercising alone. In fact, when you’re suffering from a mood disorder such as depression, the companionship can be just as important as the exercise.

Easy ways to move more that don’t involve the gym

Don’t have a 30-minute block of time to dedicate to yoga or a bike ride? Don’t worry. Think about physical activity as a lifestyle rather than just a single task to check off your to-do list. Look at your daily routine and consider ways to sneak in activity here, there, and everywhere.


Exercise This to Instantly Boost Your Mood

The Best Forms of Exercise to Improve Your Mood

Let’s face it—we all could use help in the mood-boosting department from time to time (some days more than others.) Life gets crazy, we get stressed, and our overall mood suffers. The good news? We have the info you’ll want on the best mood-boosting exercises to instantly get you that bad mood funk. 

Want to know exactly how to exercise to instantly boost your mood? 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Feeling Stressed? Here Are The Top 3 Mood-Boosting Exercises to do ASAP 

If you’re feeling stressed and irritable, we want you to know exactly what type of exercise to do to really fill your cup and get the best bang for your buck. There’s no sense in doing any old workout if you don’t walk away in a better mood, right?

So, if you need an instant mood boost, you’re going to want to do one of these three mood-boosting exercises asap. Not only will you walk away feeling that much more positive, but you’ll be working towards your fitness goals at the same time (heck, yes!) 

#1 Bust Stress & Boost Mood With a Yoga Flow Workout

Feeling stressed? Grab your yoga mat, and make yoga your new BFF and favorite mood-boosting exercise to get your mind and body centered. 

Yoga is such an amazing form of exercise that really helps you relax and also helps stretch out those tired and sore muscles at the same time. 

Studies have even found that yoga may help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. So, if you’re feeling tense, get your yoga flow on, and pick your favorite yoga workout on the FitOn app for a free, guided workout to help boost your mood and help you feel your best. 

Hack: Try getting into a regular yoga routine. The more you keep up with it, the more you can really maximize those benefits! Aim for at least a few times per week, and if you can manage a quick yoga flow each morning, you may be surprised at what it can do for your mood and health. 

#2 Brain Fog Have You Down? Grab Your Weights

If you feel you just can’t focus and are feeling totally overwhelmed, pause and grab some weights. A study found that lifting weights may, in fact, improve cognitive function. 

So, while you’re lifting those dumbbells and working on those sexy bis and tris, you may also walk away feeling a bit more focused and not so cranky as you power through the rest of your day. 

#3 Feeling Frustrated? Get Your Cardio Fix In 

We can’t talk about mood-boosting exercises without talking about cardio. Cardio junkies can totally relate to that runners high they get after a good run or cardio sesh. All the endorphins that are released after a sweat-dripping workout is enough for anyone to want to commit to a more regular cardio workout routine. 

If you find yourself needing to clear your head and improve your mood, consider some cardio. Even a HIIT or Tabata workout is a great way to combat stress, and you’ll ly feel ten times better after your workout. 

Not overly excited about the idea of cardio, but want to see what it can do for you? Try this walking to running plan that may just make a cardio junkie you! 

The Number One Hack to Keep Your Mood High 

Now that you know about the best mood-boosting exercises, there’s something else you can do to help prevent yourself from getting totally frazzled in the first place. It all comes down to exercise timing. 

Starting your day with a good sweat sesh is an amazing way to support a better overall mood to help you kick butt all day long. Why? Because exercise helps your brain make more endorphins, which are those feel-good neurotransmitters that come on strong after a good workout. 

So, it only makes sense that getting a workout in before starting your day is a surefire way to keep your mood high even as you face your daily chaotic schedule. 

Don’t have time for a long AM workout? No sweat—a quick HIIT FitOn workout will be plenty to get your mind and body ready for a productive and positive day. 

Oh, and need some motivation to actually get your booty up and ready to get your workout in? Check out these 5 hacks to motivate yourself to get that morning sweat sesh in. 

Boost Your Mood, Boost Your Health 

One of the greatest things about adding fitness into your day-to-day life is that not only will it ly boost your mood, but exercising on the reg may just happen to boost your health as well. 

Next time you’re feeling stressed, frustrated, or just downright irritable, take just 20-30 minutes to take care of you and get a good sweat in. 

Use one of these mood-boosting exercises to go from feeling blah to boss, because you’re just one workout away from a better mood.  


Exercises to Improve Mood

The Best Forms of Exercise to Improve Your Mood

If you’re wondering how you can naturally boost your mood and increase your energy, the answer may be to get moving. Studies have shown that exercise improves not only mental health but it can also promote relaxation.1 Even better–you don’t need to be a professional athlete or exercise-pro to reap the benefits.

Wondering what simple activities can help you feel great? We’ve rounded up 7 exercises that may help lift your spirits and explain how each exercise improves mood differently. 

How does exercising improve your mood?

Regular exercise may give you a mood boost and improve the symptoms of depression and anxiety.2 When you break a sweat, your body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins that enhance your sense of well-being. Getting active can also take your mind off of worries and help to relieve stress.3

What’s more, exercise may also help improve self-confidence.4 Along with boosted positive body image, there have also been findings of increased self-esteem.4 And the benefits of exercise don’t stop there, by breaking a sweat on a regular basis it allows you the chance to meet new people and socialize with friends.

Getting active is a great outlet to work out any stress you may be experiencing and can help with depression.5

Once you get into the routine of working out, whether a daily walk or workout class, you’ll ly start to notice a difference in how you feel – for the better.

Read on as we explore 7 different types of activities and the benefits of each.

#1. Yoga to decrease anxiety

The benefits of yoga go beyond increasing your flexibility – it may also help reduce anxiety.6

A study analyzed the anxiety levels of people who practiced yoga for at least one hour, three times a week.

The results revealed that yoga is associated with increased levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric), which is an amino acid and neurotransmitter that can help decrease anxiety.

7 One of the reasons could be due to the slow, deep breathing that is so vital to the practice. If you’re not up for an entire yoga class, even simple stretches along with mindful breathing could be beneficial.

#2. Tai Chi to reduce stress

Yoga isn’t the only stress-buster on the block. The ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi may also help you stress less.8

Tai Chi involves standing and shifting your weight back and forth while engaging the muscles in your lower and upper body and breathing rhythmically. Multiple studies have found that the slow and fluid movements help your muscles and mind relax.9 Think of it as meditation in motion. As an added benefit, Tai Chi can also help improve your balance, flexibility and strength.10

#3. Pilates to improve sleep

Not being able to sleep can be frustrating, but Pilates may be able to help your mind unwind.11

Pilates is a series of strengthening exercises to help improve physical strength and mental awareness. A study performed by Appalachian State University found that Pilates can do more than tone your body. Participants who did Pilates on a mat for at least 150 minutes a week were less ly to have sleep issues.12

#4. Cycling to increase energy

You don’t need to enter the Tour de France–research shows that even short rides on a bicycle may be beneficial!13

One study found that just a single 30-minute ride on a stationary bike boosted the energy levels of participants.14 The study’s authors also recorded positive electrical changes in the participants’ brains that were related to energy. Although we often think of physical activity as being tiring, you may feel a little more energized after a workout session.

#5. Weight lifting to increase clarity

It turns out that pumping iron can not only tone your body, it may also boost your mind.15

You don’t have to curl heavy dumbbells to reap the benefits of weightlifting. A study of older adults found that performing low-intensity, weight-training exercises three to five times a week for a month, improved the participants’ cognitive function.15 The cognitive tests showed an improvement in executive function, which includes planning, behavior regulation and multitasking.

#6. Dancing to release endorphins

If you love dancing for fun, we have good news: not only can it raise your heart rate16 which helps burn calories, but multiple studies have shown music may offer a healthy escape for your mind.17

Much a runner’s high, the rhythmic movement of dancing releases endorphins that may boost your mood. Put on some music, dance away, and see for yourself!

#7. Swimming to reduce depression

Looking for a mood-boosting exercise that is low-impact? Consider swimming which can improve your mental and physical health.18

The results of one study found that swimming had the same effect on rats as an antidepressant.19 Because swimming uses special breathing techniques and repetitive strokes, it can be meditative and potentially reduce tension.   

By incorporating one or more of these exercises into your daily routine, you may boost your mood and even bring you closer to your weight loss and fitness goals.

Are you looking for a weight loss program that can help you with your eating habits as well as give you guidance on physical activity? Jenny Craig can help! View our plans to get started today!


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19]


How Exercise Can Improve Your Mood

The Best Forms of Exercise to Improve Your Mood

Becky Weil always prided herself on staying active. Cardio, in particular, made her feel more positive and confident about her body. But work stress during pregnancy, a difficult birth and a colicky newborn derailed the 33-year-old New Jersey mom’s regular workout routine. She went months without exercising, and as time passed, realized she no longer felt her old energetic self.

Determined to make a change, Becky started going to the gym on nights and weekends, when her husband was home to watch their baby.

Besides strengthening and toning, the regular sweat sessions also gave her a much-needed energy boost and a sense of calm. “Once I started taking care of myself, I found I had more patience,” Becky says.

“Even now, I notice a difference in my mood and overall happiness on days I go to the gym.”

The mind-body connection

Becky isn’t the only one who feels better after a workout. In fact, there’s evidence of a connection between staying active and improved mental health.

Studies show people who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger and stress than those who exercise less frequently or not at all.

And recent research even suggests that over time, regular exercise can help fend off dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Experts are still figuring out exactly why moving your muscles helps boost your mood. One possible explanation could be that aerobic exercise produces endorphins, or “feel good” chemicals.

It also increases your heart rate, which triggers norepinephrine, a chemical that may help the brain deal with stress more effectively. Plus, exercise helps to increase blood flow to the brain.

This, in turn, impacts all of your cellular functions, everything from improving concentration to regulating sleep to ultimately boosting your mood.

Your daily habits could also play a role, says Alan Schneider, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and a medical director for Aetna Behavioral Health. “People who exercise regularly have more structured lifestyles,” he explains. “They tend to be more grounded in how they eat, sleep, exercise and maintain themselves, so their mental state tends to be better.”

Mood-boosting exercises

Whether moderate or vigorous, consistent exercise has mood-boosting benefits for people of all skill levels.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week.

If that seems too much to take on, try starting out with 10- to 15-minute sessions and gradually increasing your time each week. (Always talk to your doctor before starting any fitness program.) Here are some activities to consider as you kickstart your fitness plan.

  • Walking. “I encourage people to get outside as often as possible,” says Katherine Smith, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Aetna health coach. The extra steps will get your heart pumping. Plus, being out in the sunshine can improve vitamin D levels, which helps ward off depression.
  • Aerobic exercise and weight training. Both types of exercise increase your heart rate and release feel-good endorphins in the brain. Try doing a combination of both, such as a Zumba class followed by a short session lifting light weights. 
  • Low-impact exercises. Yoga, Pilates or even gentle stretching can improve blood flow to areas that tend to hold tension. (Think your neck and shoulders.) “These exercises provide stretching and controlled breathing, which loosen muscles,” Smith explains. “And the focus on breathing in itself is a great stress reliever.”

That’s what Judy Freedman, 60, discovered several years ago when she took up yoga after the death of her husband and subsequent retirement. “I needed a physical outlet to help me manage the process of change,” she says. Not only has the regular practice improved her flexibility and balance, she says it’s also increased her memory and sense of mindfulness.

Stay on track

Motivating yourself to get up and get moving can be a challenge, especially if you’re feeling down. Here are a few tips to stay on track.

  • Find an activity you enjoy. Smith suggests experimenting with different types of workouts until you find the right one for you. “If you don't it, you won't do it,” she points out.
  • Go at your own pace. If you’re a fitness newbie or have been “on a break” with your workout regimen, consider taking it slowly at first. Kicking off a new routine with short intervals of activity sends positive feedback to your brain that you enjoyed the experience, so you’re more ly to keep up the habit. See more tips on how to stick to a fitness plan.
  • Use tech tools. You can use a wearable device to track your steps or activity, and then challenge yourself to improve over time. Or enlist the help of a fitness app. Under Armour’s “Map My Run,” for example, tracks over 600 activities and allows you to share your workouts on social media and connect with other athletes.
  • Find a workout buddy. You can hold each other accountable for sticking with the routine. Plus, regular workouts can build camaraderie and a sense of community. (Read more about social fitness here.) Blayne Smith, former executive director of Team Red White and Blue, discovered that when he returned to civilian life after the military. Exercise not only helped boost his physical and emotional health, it also provided an important social outlet. (Learn more about Blayne’s story below.)

Transcript: How Exercise Benefits the Mind & Boosts Your Mood

It can be challenging to transition from military life to civilian life.

I came back home and I felt guilty. So when I realized that things weren’t going as well as I hoped they would it was a big wakeup call for me.

I knew I had to get back to doing the things that made me who I was before I could really start feeling better. I had to force myself, in some cases to get a little bit outside my comfort zone.

I started running and exercising more and that made me feel great. When we get people together, then they can support each other. Physical activity is just a great way to do that.

Not only is exercise great for your physical, mental and emotional health, but it’s just a way for people to build meaningful connections.

I’m Blayne Smith, Executive Director at Team Red, White and Blue. And Team Red, White and Blue is making better communities through physical and social activity.

Blayne Smith is a real member who’s given us permission to use his story.

Developing an exercise regimen will not only help you feel better physically, you’ll also enjoy a sense of accomplishment—and that can motivate you to keep going.

Now that Becky’s son is in preschool, she has more time to work out, which revs up her energy and attitude. “When I’m on my way to pick up my son, I can’t wait to see him,” she says.

“I’m excited about spending the rest of my day doing things with him, feeling more positive and happier.”

Brooke Showell is a writer and editor whose health, fitness and psychology stories have appeared in Self, Health, Woman’s Day and Redbook. She’s very into the idea of fitness travel and plans to one day take her yoga practice to the beach.


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